Maps and Communication

Lee Iacocca once told of an event that transpired when he worked at Ford. There was a big meeting for car dealers.  Iacocca predicted what the two senior most executives would do as soon as the festivities ended, and then told the person with him to watch.

It went just as he predicted.  As the formalities concluded, the two seniors began shaking hands with the dealers and steadily moved along the wall and towards the door. They were soon gone. Iacocca pointed out that the senior executives at Ford looked down on the dealers and every dealer knew it.

We were once doing a program for middle managers. The middle managers kept asking why the CEO did not think enough of them to stop in. The HR people spent months trying to convince the CEO to give a speech of welcome. He finally agreed.

In the program, the CEO stood in front of the group and began speaking. After a minute he took a step backwards. Soon he did it again. By the end of the speech, he was pressed against the projection screen as far from the group as he could possibly be. When he eventually left the room, the group was depleted, discouraged and angry. It took an entire day to help them recover.   The HR people had to then figure out how to keep the CEO away from future sessions of the program. It turned out to be easier than they thought.

We ran into an old friend. He is a man with an incisive mind and a big heart. A few years ago he lost his wife. He was recently speaking to a group and mentioned that his wife had been a teacher in a nearby school. One woman came up after and said that his wife was the best teacher in the school.

He asked, “When did you take her class?”

“Oh, she was never my teacher.”

“Then why do you believe she was the best teacher in the school?”

“Everyone knew she was the best teacher. It was the things she did. When holidays were coming she would visit all the classes and share what people did in other countries. On Thanksgiving she cooked and she fed everyone who was hungry. There was a boy that everyone believed would likely end up in prison, but she never gave up on him. Most of all, it was recess. At recess all the other teachers gathered in a group and talked to each other. She spent the time talking to us. We knew she cared about us.”

No matter what we feel about others, we communicate it. The process is often nonverbal and unconscious. Yet, what we communicate, others detect. People know how we feel about them.

From research, we know that successful leaders are high on task and high on individual consideration. They not only spend time with their people, they want to spend time with their people. Because they do, they understand and can respond to the deepest needs and interests of their people. Another word for this is love.

When we are in a position of authority we are flooded with problems to solve. Operating from the conventional mental map, it is natural to then begin to see people as problems. We seek to fix them like we would fix a broken machine. Taking a conventional, transactional perspective, if we determine they are unfixable, we no longer have use for them. We separate ourselves and put negative labels on them. Like the senior executives at Ford and like the CEO stepping backwards, we let them know that we have no use for them and they get the message.

If we live from the positive perspective we have a higher purpose. That purpose is contributive and we pursue our opportunities to contribute. As we do, we see ourselves more positively and we see the people around us more positively. We want to be with, understand, and serve them. Like the school teacher at recess, we are with the children instead of the other teachers. In the positive mental map there is no more logical place to be because there we can serve our people and better learn how to move towards our highest purpose.



When have you seen the Iacocca pattern in your organization?

Whey have you seen the school teacher pattern in your organization?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



2 thoughts on “Maps and Communication

  1. I love reading your work Robert! I always feel so encouraged and it helps me to strive to be the very best I can be in my own work as a consultant. Thank you for the care and passion you put into your posts Georgina


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